During a visit to Iraq on Wednesday, Marine General Frank McKenzie, the US Central Command commander, confirmed the US military personnel would be reduced from 5,200 to 3,000 by the end of September.
The force reduction is due to “the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said the decision is due to the United States’ “confidence in the Iraqi Security Forces’ increased ability to operate independently.”
The top US general in the Middle East claimed that the reduced size of military presence in Iraq would still be able to “advise” and “assist” Iraqi forces in rooting out the remnants of the Daesh terror group in the country.
Spokesman for the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC), Major General Tahseen al-Khafaji said on Wednesday that the US decision came within an agreed timetable between the Iraqi government and Washington.
“The latest step to cut the number of US troops came as a result of coordination and joint work between us and the US-led international coalition forces,” al-Khafaji told the official Iraqi News Agency.
In August, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the US for talks on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq.
The visit came months after Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on January 5, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country.
The bill was a response to the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq's PMU, and their companions in a US airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport days earlier.
Later on January 9, the then Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the move.
The 78-year-old politician said Iraq rejected any violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military’s violation of Iraqi airspace in the assassination airstrike.
The long-expected decision to pull back American troops from Iraq comes as the US president attempts to deliver on his 2016 campaign promises while facing a tough reelection in November.